Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. Impulsivity means having difficulty staying focused, and also being disorganised. Hyperactivity means being too active in a situation.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is much talked about but still not very well understood. It is a problem with behaviour that can range from mild to severe. For some children, ADHD can cause severe problems, especially if treatment isn't started early. Early diagnosis is therefore very important.
It can be very difficult to tell the difference between a child with ADHD and a 'naughty' and 'disruptive' child and so the diagnosis of ADHD needs a thorough assessment by a specialist. If psychological therapy, and sometimes also medication, is started early then this can greatly improve your child's life and future.
What causes it?
Although the main cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not known, various factors are thought to increase the risk of a child developing ADHD.
Learn more about the causes of ADHD.
How common is it?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is thought to affect about 1 in 20 children in the UK. About three times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with ADHD. However, some experts think that boys are more likely to be referred and get a diagnosis. That's because, compared with girls, they are hyperactive more often, which is more disruptive to others. A girl with the inattention type of ADHD may be dismissed as a lazy daydreamer. A boy who constantly disrupts the whole class may be harder to miss.
Although ADHD is most often diagnosed in children aged 3-7 years, it may not be recognised until much later in life. Sometimes it's not diagnosed until adulthood.
Are there different symptoms?
There are three different types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
- Hyperactive-impulsive subtype
- Inattention subtype
- Combined subtype
For a diagnosis of ADHD, the child must have at least six symptoms from the hyperactive-impulsive section, or the inattention section, or both.
Read more about the symptoms of ADHD.
How do I get a diagnosis?
There is no blood test or any other test to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Making a diagnosis is a complicated process that involves a detailed specialist assessment of all aspects of a child's physical and mental health, as well as educational and social factors.
Find out more about the diagnosis of ADHD.
What are the treatment options?
The treatments will depend on how severe the condition is as well as the age of your child. Treatment options include parent-training programmes and sometimes medication. Diet may be a factor and may be worth considering. Older children or adults may benefit from psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)..
Find out more about the treatment of ADHD.
What is the outlook for children with ADHD?
Without treatment, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are up to 100 times more likely to be excluded from school. ADHD is one of the main risk factors for criminal offending during childhood.
One review of research studies found that in people aged 25 years who had been diagnosed as having ADHD as children:
- About 15 in every 100 were still diagnosed as having ADHD.
- About 65 in every 100 had improved (partial remission) but still had symptoms and difficulties because of ADHD.
Children with ADHD are also more likely to have other problems as adults, such as unemployment, relationship difficulties, substance misuse and involvement in crime. But the good news is that early treatment does help to reduce the long-term impact of ADHD.
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Further reading & references
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management; NICE Clinical Guideline (September 2008)
- Management of attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorders in children and young people; Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network - SIGN (October 2009)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; NICE CKS, October 2015 (UK access only)
- Post RE, Kurlansik SL; Diagnosis and management of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2012 May 1 85(9):890-6.
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